Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Rewriting and Second Drafts

In some ways I love rewriting and editing my work. With poetry I'm always tinkering, a poem for me is never done until it is published in a book. Then I don't look at it again. But as I'm trying to get it published in a magazine or anthology I'm always changing a line here or a phrase there, sometimes overhauling the whole thing if I really feel it's not working. 

With fiction I dislike rewriting. I do editing as my paying 'job' so I don't mind rereading things, fixing grammar and syntax, but it's a big step from writing a novel to that final editing stage. First drafts are hard work, but fun: pushing to the finish, seeing where the characters take me, the satisfaction of completing a chapter or the entire novel. But it's not really done, it's tens of thousands of words that need to be re-examined, picked apart, enhanced, tightened, expanded, reworked before you can just correct grammar and tidy it up. I usually set a novel aside when I finish the first draft and then come back to it when I feel fresh. There is a sense of exhaustion and relief when you complete and the thought of of going back to it to start again is something I dread. 

With my second novel there was a 6-year gap between my first and second drafts. I'm not sure when I started writing it but in 2008, according to writing journals, I was working hard on it. I finished the first draft in 2010 and went back to it in 2016. Not all novels go this way, my first novel was much quicker and one continuous process with shorter gaps. 

Part of it was the unusual situation I found myself in: moving country with a young family, being heavily pregnant during the move, trying to settle into our new country and language with a newborn and a child who was struggling with previously unknown special needs. I couldn't focus on anything longer than a few lines of a poem at a time. I looked at the novel contemplating revision at least once, but couldn't summon the energy required. 

So when my youngest started nursery and I reread the novel for the first time properly in years, I realised I still loved the characters and could see the potential in the story, so I knew I was ready to start the second draft. But reworking a novel is almost as hard as writing it, especially the way I wrote this one. This novel didn't have a plot when I sat down. I had a setting, a main character with a question I needed answering and a format I wanted to work in. I wrote each chapter with no plan other than what the characters wanted to do. 

My novel has two narrative points of view from the same character, one as a teen and one as an adult and I alternate between the two. It was hard to write the adult POV as I didn't know the answer to the teen's question which was the crux of the story. I knew her choice would have repercussions on her adult life, so allowing both timelines to evolve simultaneously meant I was writing the adult sections blind for the first chunk of the novel. 

As you can imagine it didn't flow smoothly. When I started the adult narrative was going to be a minor reflection of the events of the character's past, the bulk of the action was taking place when she was a teen. But when I sat down to start to stitch them together in the rewriting stage I realised that the adult section as as important and needed a great deal of catching up, expanding and elaborating, so I've done a lot more writing with this edit. 

Rewriting also has to fill plot holes and sort what seemed like minor problems in the first draft. Yesterday I was doing some research on things I hadn't examined properly and realised that my timeframe for the teenage part of the novel doesn't work. I wanted it set in the spring and early summer, but I now realise that may not work without giving up some ideas I had. You can't change nature or deadlines and as both play important parts in the timing of the novel, I'm going to have to have a rethink about some important elements. 

Rewriting is frustrating, challenging, time consuming, enjoyable and invigorating. I work on print-outs, on the computer and in my notebook, depending on what sort of work I'm doing. My first draft was 65,000ish words, my current count is 88,000ish. I still have a lot of writing to do before I can get to the tightening stage. It's a slow intensive process, but each step reveals a lot about the story and myself as a writer.

So time to post this and get some real work done. 

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